Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tibet. Shigatse.


We left Gyantse after lunch and headed down the road to Shigatse.

We arrived in Shigatse in early afternoon and had the rest of the day to explore the town. Baikuntha had told us that Shigatse was primarily a "Chinese" town so as we entered it, we were prepared to see China and not Tibet. I must admit, that was a bit disappointing.

We checked into our hotel and Margaret, Claire and I decided to check out the town. This was going to be our last opportunity to buy Tibetan souvenirs so the three of us set out to find the Tibetan market. With rough directions from Baikuntha, we headed out and walked and walked and walked. We were just about to give up when we bumped into Barry. He too was trying to find the Tibetan market and had walked and walked and walked. We all decided to give it one last shot and after a few blocks, decided to give up. Margaret and Claire headed back to the hotel. Barry and I walked around a bit more and then decided to head back to the hotel before going to the internet cafe.

As I left my hotel room to meet back up with Barry in the lobby, there were Margaret and Claire and Barry in the lounge. We decided to just kick back and have a drink. Poor Barry. He saw "coffee" on the menu and decided to order a cup. I didn't have the heart to remind him that China is a tea drinking nation and that people who don't drink coffee don't know how to brew a proper cup. He found out.....it was one baaaaddddd cup of coffee! Margaret decided to order fresh lemon juice. We're far from where lemons are grown. I don't think the folks in Shigatse know how to squeeze the juice from the lemon. What came out tasted like they had ground the entire lemon in a food processor. Talk about tart - we all puckered up as we took sips from her glass :-)

Then it was off to the internet cafe where Barry and I found Baikuntha - it had been a few days since any of us had been on the web so it was good to fire off a few emails to let everyone know that I was doing well.

Dinner that night was same old, same old as we had gotten pretty accustomed to the limited Tibetan menu.

For entertainment, Baikuntha suggested that we go to a nightclub (or nangma, as they call it in Tibet) afterwards. With nothing else to keep us occupied, we agreed to go. WOW! What an odd experience that turned out to be. The club was filled with a bunch of tables and banquettes surrounding the stage. The seven of us filled one of the banquettes near the stage. We ordered our drinks and waited for the show to start. In the meantime, the club filled with patrons. Okay, it's Saturday night and you would expect the club goers to be in their finest partying outfits. But we're in Tibet, so a bunch of really drab dressed men and women walked in.

The lights went down and the show began. A very energetic MC kicked off the show - of course we had no clue what he was saying.

One singer after another took center stage with the MC returning between each to do the intros.

While each had their own singer had his/her own singing style, overall I would describe the music "techno-Tibetan". Yeah, I know. Hard to imagine what that would sound like but that's the best that I can describe it. Some of the performances were okay, most were pretty bad.

What was more interesting (I don't know how else to politely describe it) than the performances was the fact that people would get up onto the stage and start dancing waltzes (yes, to techno-Tibetan music) as the singer performed. Most often, men danced with women but there several same sex couples that also danced. I must admit, it was a bit wierd watching two men do the waltz - don't know why it's okay when two women do the same.

After enduring a few performances, Barry couldn't take it anymore so he left. The rest of us hung on for a couple more and then we also left. Off to bed and a good night's rest.

Next morning, we left after breakfast and went to tour Tashilhunpo Monastery - historically, the home of the Panchen Lama.
As we walked towards the monastery complex, Baikuntha pointed out the four main buildings in the complex. They're the tall ones in the background in the photo below.


We bought our entry tickets.....


....and entered the complex through the red wood doors that had now become a common sight for us.

We started our tour with the Chapel of the Maitreya which houses a 24m tall gilded statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha - a lot of gold went into this statue and it was quite sight to see as it was housed in a room that was barely larger than the statue itself.

On our visit, we also toured the Tomb of the 10th Panchen Lama who died in 1989. Tibetans refer to him with both reverance and sadness as he was well loved and he is likely to be the last Tibetan Panchen Lama. The current, 11th Panchen Lama, is Chinese. Tibetan tombs are like tiered pyramids. Since this was for a well known figure, it is both large (much larger than what you would imagine) and gold plated. Quite a sight.

Like the other Gelugpa monasteries we had visited, Tashilunpho is a huge complex of interconnected chapels, chanting halls, assembly halls and courtyards. The place was filled with Tibetan devotees, praying and leaving behind their offerings of money and yak butter. Yak butter abounded :-(

Catching a breather between chapels :-)


We quickly went through the various chapels and halls as most of us were pretty "templed out" by this point.

Our last stop was the Tomb of the 5th to 9th Panchen Lamas which was built by the 10th Panchen Lama to replace the original structure that was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. He died 10 days after he dedicated the building.


On my way out to the exit, I couldn't resist taking this photo of this Tibetan window with the curtain above and juniper incense burner on the ledge....


....and one last image of a Tibetan side street.



With a few minutes left before we had to meet back up at the cars, several of us trolled the souvenir stands outside the Monastery as it was our last chance to buy Tibetan souvenirs. Then, a quick lunch to fill our stomachs, a stop at the store to pick up supplies, and we were back on the road.

Next stop. Sakya.